Manuscript 1984

"If anything happens to me, destroy the manuscript."
~ letter to friend prior to completion of 1984


"It is the only manuscript of any of George's in existence."
~ Orwell's wife Sonia

The most thrilling part of VISITING ORWELL'S BARNHILL, where he wrote "1984", was being in the very room where he typed it*, and where his wife Sonia later found the manuscript when she went to Jura in February 1950, a month after Orwell's death in London on January 21st.

In HOMAGE TO ORWELL I describe my visits to Orwell's grave, his childhood homes, London pubs, restaurants and apartments. Readers may recall it culminating in the village of HAY-ON-WYE in Wales where I purchased books by and about George Orwell. One of those books was an exact copy (a facsimilie) of Orwell's manuscript of "1984" entitled GEORGE ORWELL, NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, THE FACSIMILIE, my copy of which is in the above photo behind a symbolic glass paperweight and "Animal Farm" quote.

The big white book was on display in the front window of the last bookstore we were planning to visit in Hay-on-Wye before heading back to the car. I didn't know what it was when I asked the shop lady to reach behind the window and get it for me, as all that stood out was GEORGE ORWELL. When I laid it down on the counter and started flipping through the pages it took a few minutes to realize that the handwriting I was seeing was George Orwell's and that the words I was reading were from 1984. The pages on the right were handwritten in ink and the pages on the left were typed in italicized script. But their words were identical. Here's an example of partial left and right-hand pages:

MS Left Page     MS Right Page

But looking at those pages I still didn't really know where they came from. I flipped back to the cover of the book and looked at the word, FACSIMILIE, and it still didn't totally dawn on me what I was looking at. Then I read the inside flap where it said:

"The very survival of this manuscript is itself remarkable. As Sonia Orwell wrote, 'George was obviously not a very great manuscript keeper as there are none around of any of the books except this.'..."

Then it hit me that what I was looking at was the manuscript of 1984 in Orwell's own handwriting and I almost started screaming but I restrained myself. To make a long story short, we bought the book and I left the store clutching the bag to my body and walking like a zombie to the nearest bench where I could sit down and take a look at it again.

When I unpacked it back home in Canada I read on the inside page:

edited by Peter Davison, published in England in 1984
by Martin Secker & Warburg Limited.

I looked up the definitions of "facsimilie", "extant" and "manuscript" in my World Book dictionary:

facsimile     - (noun) - an exact copy or likeness; perfect reproduction
extant        - (adj  ) - still in existence, still existing; not destroyed or lost
manuscript - (noun) - a book, article, or paper written by hand or with a typewriter

And that's exactly what Davison's book is, ie AN EXACT REPRODUCTION OF GEORGE ORWELL'S HANDWRITTEN AND TYPEWRITTEN MANUSCRIPT, of 1984. The right-side pages are photo-copies and the left-side pages are Davison's exact translation. He's done all the work so a person doesn't have to stumble through Orwell's handwriting and scratch-outs to read it and see his writing process.

At the top of the page I've displayed my copy of the Facsimilie next to items symbolising the essence of 1984 (the glass paperweight) and Animal Farm (some pigs are more equal than other pigs).

All the best,
Jackie Jura

(by Peter Davison explaining how it came to be created and published)

"George Orwell was no hoarder of his manuscripts. Of his nine books, a few notes survive for Burmese Days; because they were subjected to censorship, a page or two of Keep the Aspidistra Flying were not destroyed and have come to light in the files of the first publisher of that book; and Orwell's typescripts use by the printers to set Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are in the Orchell Archive. It is, therefore, a particularly happy chance that so much of the preliminary drafting of Nineteen Eighty-Four should have survived. As Sonia Orwell wrote on 28 August 1974 to Daniel G. Siegel, who now owns the manuscript, 'it is such a rare document' for 'Unfortunately George always threw away all his mss. letters etc., so his actual working methods are very badly documented.'"

"This facsimilie reproduces all that is known to have survived of the prelimnary drafts of Nineteen Eighty-Four, that is, about 44% of the published text of the novel. Apart from a single page of overlap (typescript page 239, which reproduces manuscript pages 180-1), the facsimile tells the story of Nineteen Eighty-Four in outline from the beginning almost to the end, though obviously with some gaps."

"Although Orwell had been considering writing a book of the kind that was eventually to be published as Nineteen Eighty-Four for some years, he only began its composition in the summer of 1946. He often wrote when ill and in pain, and the writing of the novel was interrupted by a lengthy spell in hospital, whither, having posted the final typescript to his publisher, he was to return."

"What has survived of the preliminary drafts, all of which is reproduced in this facsimile, was composed in four stages. The first is represented in the facsimile by typescript pages 25-38, dating from the summer of 1946. Of the second stage, a full, typed draft prepared during 1947, only nine pages have survived: 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 57 (originally numbered). The third stage is represented by typescript page 239. This is an intermediate stage of revision and is the only survivor of an almost complete fair-typing of the novel which was done for Orwell by Mrs Miranda Wood in 1947. The bulk of what is reproduced in facsimile here is from the fourth stage of composition. This was handwritten, possibly because Orwell found it too painful to sit at a table and type in 1948."

"Despite all the rewriting revealed by this facsimile, it is remarkable how closely what has survived adheres to the main sweep of the narrative of Nineteen Eighty-Four. All the principal features, except the Appendix on Newspeak, are present, suggesting that the story had been pretty fully formed in Orwell's mind by the time he sat down to write it out. What can now be seen for the first time is, in Sonia Orwell's words, her husband's 'actual working methods'. These are a compelling demonstration of the way Orwell fashioned and refashioned his story, perfecting language and thought, in order to create one of the most remarkable novels of the twentieth century."


"...On 23 May 1946 Orwell arrived at Barnhill on Jura and the next day started to dig his garden. The garden and many visitors preoccupied him until August. On the twelfth of that month he wrote to George Woodcock:

'I've just started another novel which I dare say might get finished some time in 1947. I did literally no work for three months, a holiday which I sorely needed, and only got round to starting work again a week or so ago, so I have only written a few pages. However I hope to get in a good six weeks at it and thus come back with enough written to encourage me to go on with it in the intervals of journalism.'

"By 26 December he had 'only done about 50 pages and God knows when it will be finished', as he complained in a letter to Humphrey Slater. He left Barnhill on 9 October and in Crick's words, thereafter 'it was as if he had set the major task' of writing Nineteen Eighty-Four aside until he returned to what he hoped would be the tranquility of Jura' (p.520)."

"He arrived back at Barnhill on the evening of 11 April 1947. He was far from well but in a short note to George Woodcock on 9 June he could say, 'My book is getting on very slowly but still it is getting on. I hope to finish it fairly early in 1948.'"

"Bernard Crick notes:"

"'None of the summer visitors to Jura remember his talking either about what book he was writing or about school-days. They just heard the typewriter pounding away in his room (p.527.'" "(The reference to school-days is in connexion with the dating of 'Such, Such Were the Joys'.)"

"Orwell wrote again to Woodcock on 9 August 1947:"

"'I am struggling with this novel which I hope to finish early in 1948. I don't even expect to finish the rough draft before about October, then I must come to London for about a month to see to various things and do one or two articles I have promised, then I shall get down to the rewriting of the book which will probably take me 4 or 5 months.'"

"While he was away in Jura, Orwell had let his flat in Canonbury Square to Mrs Miranda Christen (now Mrs Miranda Wood). Mrs Wood has written an intriguing account of her stay in Orwell's flat during the summers of 1946 and 1947, as yet unpublished. She had returned from the Far East early in 1946 after 3 1/2 years in Japanese-occupied territory. She was technically of German nationality but was in the process of obtaining British naturalization papers and a divorce, and then waiting for one of the few sea-passages to Singapore. These were lengthy procedures, especially at that time, and she was very glad to have the use of Orwell's flat during his absence."

"Soon after Mrs Wood returned for her second summer in the Canonbury flat, in 1947, Orwell wrote to her from Jura to ask if she knew anyone who would be willing to type out the draft of a work in progress. She was glad to take on the work herself (she had experience of work in two publishers' offices) and she made an appropriate deduction to the nominal rent she paid for her services, evidently to Orwell's satisfaction. About every two weeks a batch of material would arrive in the post and she would type on the portable machine she found in the flat a fair and a carbon copy. These she then posted back to Jura within a few days of each batch arriving. The verison sent to Mrs Wood was, as she describes it, 'presumably the initial draft. It was partly self-typed, partly handwritten. The writing was neat and legible with alterations and inserts carefully indicated and unfamiliar names and words spelled out meticulously. I was also provided with a separate glossary of Newspeak'."

"Nineteen Eighty-Four was not all that Mrs Wood typed for Orwell: 'One day there was a separate sheaf of papers in the package. It was a bleary typescript of the essay 'Such, Such Were the Joys' to be re-done. It looked as if it had been lying around for a considerable time.'"

"Mrs Wood typed the final batch sent to her. 'It stopped a few hundred words short of the end. The Appendix was not included.' She had expected Orwell to be back in London in September but he did not appear - only a load of peat arrived for the fire. By 20 November she had left for Singapore without meeting Orwell again. She had sent him the name and address of a reliable typist but 'So far as I know he did not make use of it'."

"The only page to survive of all those that Mrs Wood typed is 239. She was able to identify that when examining the originals of this facsimile when they were in London in November 1983."

"It might be noted that Mrs Wood, when typing Orwell's draft - on Orwell's own portable - repeated his mis-spelling, 'agression'. (From being a child, Orwell spelt 'aggression' with one 'g'.) Until I knew of Mrs Wood's part in this story I had assumed, naturally enough, given the typewriter and this spelling, that p.239 had been typed by Orwell. As can be seen from the facsimile, never mind the originals, there is a distinction between even a good amateur typist and a professional."

"On 25 October 1947 Orwell wrote to Woodcock saying 'I've about finished the rough draft of my novel, so should get it done by about next summer. I haven't got on as fast as I should because I've been in such wretched health this year'. On 7 November he wrote (not typed) a letter to Leonard Moore, his literary agent, saying:"

"'I have been vy unwell & intend to stay in bed for some weeks & try & get right again...I have finished the rough draft of my novel, so I ought to get the book done by abt May or June unless this illness drags out. I can't work in my present state - constant high temperature etc'."

"He was now seriously ill and spent the next seven months in hospital. It was not until 12 May 1948 that he felt fit enough to type a letter to Leonard Moore from Hairmyres Hospital:"

"'I am a lot better and the infection has evidently been quelled, but the doctors think I should remain here till about August. However, I feel so much better that I think I can get back to a little serious work and am starting on the second draft of my novel. I don't know how far I shall [sic], as it is awkward working in bed, but if I can get well started before leaving hospital I should get the book done before the end of the year'."

"He returned to Barnhill from Hairmyres on 28 July 1948 and by 6 September could tell F. J. Warburg that he was about 'half way through the revision'. He was still very unwell and in pain but on 22 October he wrote again to Warburg on the progress of the revision of the novel:"

"'I shall finish the book, D.V., early in November, and I am rather flinching from the job of typing it, because it is a very awkward thing to do in bed, where I still have to spend half the time. Also there will have to be carbon copies, a thing which always fidgets me, and the book is fearfully long. I should think well over 100,000 words, possibly 125,000. I can't send it away because it is an unbelievably bad MS and no one could make head or tail of it without explanation. On the other hand a skilled typist under my eye could do it easily enough. If you can think of anybody who would be willing to come, I will send money for the journey and full instructions. I think we could make her quite comfortable. There is always plenty to eat and I will see she has a comfortable warm place to work in'."

"A more specific date for the completion of the novel was given to Julian Symons on 29 October: 'I shall finish my book D.V., in a week or ten days'..."

"Alas, Orwell's desperate need for a typist in the winter of 1948 to prepare the copy for the publisher and printer was not met. On 15 November he wrote to Anthony Powell, 'I am just on the grisly job of typing out my novel. I can't type much because it tires me too much to sit up at a table'."

"Despite that, on 4 December he wrote to Leonard Moore that he had 'sent off two copies of the MS. of my book to you and one to Warburg'. The letter to Moore is date-stamped as received on 9 December (in London); Warburg's report on the book - which begins, 'This is amongst the most terrifying books I have ever read' - is dated 13 December 1948. No time was being lost in getting ahead with production. Five days later Orwell wrote to Tosco Fyvel, 'I can't write anything. I am very ill'. Early in January 1949, probably the sixth, Orwell was in The Cotswold Sanatorium, Cranham. One copy of the typescript referred to by Orwell on 4 December, that for setting the English edition, is in the Orwell Archive at University College London. A second copy was evidently sent to the United States for the production of the Harcourt, Brace edition, rather than waiting for page proofs of the English setting."

"In sum, then, Nineteen Eighty-Four was conceived at some time between mid-1940 and the end of 1943, an outline of topics being drawn up by January 1944. In the summer of 1946 some fifty pages were written. The novel in its first form was typed in the summer of 1947 and completed by October. During that summer, Mrs Miranda Wood typed a fair copy of all but the last few pages of the novel, of which only p.239 survives here. Revision took place from mid-May to early November 1948. Secker & Warburg published an English edition on 8 June 1949 and the United States edition was published by Harcourt, Brace (now Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) a few days later. Desperately ill though he was, Orwell must have typed something like 4,000 words a day, seven days a week, revising as he went along, if only lightly..."


"...The manuscript was originally given by Sonia Orwell for sale at a charity auction, run by Christie, Manson & Woods, in London, on 11 June 1952, apparently in their rooms. The sale, details of which are preserved in the Scribner records held on deposit by the Grolier Club of New York, was described on the catalogue title-page so:"

"Catalogue of Valuable Printed Books, Autograph Letters and Manuscripts and Some Drawings and Prints Generously Presented in Aid of The Save The Children Fund and Youth Aliya..."

"A Forward was contributed by Michael Sadleir. Mrs George Orwell was listed among the donors but not specifically of this manuscript. Lot 42, the only Orwell item in the sale, was described as:"

"ORWELL, GEORGE: the original manuscript of Orwell's last novel, partly in typescript but mainly is his own autograph. Folio. Unbound."

"The title, Nineteen Eighty-Four was not even mentioned."

"The manuscript sold for 50 pounds (= $140 at the then rate of $2.80 to the pound) to Scribner's of New York. David Randall of Scribner's arranged its sale to a collector in Kansas for $275 on 10 Setpember 1952. The manuscript arrived in New York from England on 26 September and was sent to Kansas on 3 October 1952."

"Seventeen years later, Harold Graves, also of Scribner's, bought back the manuscript for $2,000 on 26 May 1969. He apparently received the manuscript two days later and sold it to Mr Siegel for $5,000 on 1 June (the invoice being dated 2 June 1969). Mr Siegel has described his buying of the manuscript in his Preface to this volume."

"It transpired early on in these proceedings, though precisely when is not known, that the manuscript was found to be incomoplete. The late John Carter (Jake of Sonia Orwell's letter) evidently asked if any more of the manuscript were to be found. Mrs Orwell replied from 18 Percy Street, London, W.1., in an undated letter:"

"'Dear Jake,
I am so very sorry about the ms. of 1984. I did know it was incomplete but that it was so bad had escaped me. The people on the charity committee had promised to put it in order & check it but, as you know, the whole thing was handled rather strangely. By now I am sure there is no more. George was obviously not a very great manuscript keeper as there are none around of any of the books except this. But if by any happy chance I come across any more of it I will let you know immediately and exclusively'."

"On 11 July 1952, Carter replied:"

"'Many thanks for writing just before your hurried departure.
It doesn't surprise me that the MS. of Nineteen Eighty-Four should be incomplete. I never can understand why authors want to keep MS. drafts; and with an author like George I am only surprised that even a page survived the waste basket after it had been typed. If I may take it from your letter that, should any further sheets turn up, you will let me have them for whoever buys the MS., I shan't need to bother you again'."

"On 28 August 1974, Sonia Orwell wrote to Mr Siegel to express her pleasure that the manuscript of Nineteen Eighty-Four was safe in his possession:"

"'I had totally lost track of it since that Charity Sale and I often wondered if it was still intact, although as far as I remember it is only part of the book'."

"She asked whether, 'since it is the only MS. of any of George's books in existence', a photostat copy might be made and deposited in the Orwell Archive. Mr Siegel had a microfilm made and that has been deposited in the Archive since 1975..."

~ end quoting from intro to Facsimilie ~

Now that readers are familiar with the background of Orwell's 1984 manuscript I'm sure it will help them appreciate how thrilled I was to visit Barnhill where he wrote it and where his wife Sonia found it one month after his death. ~jj

NOTE TO READERS: Since Peter Davison photocopied and translated Orwell's manuscript in 1984 and created the FACSIMILIE the original manuscript has changed hands again. In 1992 Mr Siegel donated it to the Brown University Library in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.


go back to index at PILGRIMAGE TO ORWELL, August 2004




Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~